Court Asked to Kill Idaho, Montana Wolf Hunts
MISSOULA, Montana, August 20, 2009 (ENS) - Conservation groups today asked a federal district court to block fall wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana. The request came in an ongoing lawsuit seeking to restore federal Endangered Species Act protections to wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains until wolf numbers are stronger, the states develop an adequate legal safety net, and connectivity between recovery areas is assured.

Idaho has authorized the intentional killing of 220 wolves in the state's first wolf hunt, scheduled to begin September 1. Conservationists say the quota represents 30 percent of the last reported Idaho wolf population estimate, which was 846 wolves at the end of December 2008.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game, DFG, says its computer models indicate Idaho now has at least 1,000 wolves, adding that the population increases at a rate of about 20 percent a year, without hunting.

Northern Rockies gray wolf in Idaho (Photo courtesy USFWS)

Wolves in Idaho and Montana were removed from the federal Endangered Species List in May and since then have been managed under state law.

"Wolves will be managed as big game animals, similar to black bears and mountain lions," says the DFG. Hunting seasons and kill quotas are set by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.

Commissioners plan to manage the wolf population toward the 2005 level of 520 wolves through regulated hunting. The 2005 wolf population figure was used as a target number because wolf conflicts both with wildlife and livestock increased that year, said the DFG.

The state agency says this level is five times higher than the federal recovery goal of 150 wolves per state.

Conservationists counter that 150 wolves per state is an inadequate population goal to maintain genetic viability in the wolf population. There were only 39 breeding pairs of wolves in Idaho last year, and just 34 in Montana, they point out.

Montana has authorized the intentional killing of 75 wolves in a wolf hunt, scheduled to begin September 15. Montana has authorized the killing of 15 percent of its last official wolf population estimate, which was 497 wolves at the end of December 2008.

"Wolf hunting is premature," said attorney Doug Honnold of Earthjustice, who represents the conservation groups in the wolf delisting lawsuit. "The states haven't demonstrated that they are ready to achieve and maintain legitimate wolf recovery. We will work to stop this indiscriminate wolf killing."

Earthjustice represents Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Network, and Hells Canyon Preservation Council.

"It is almost beyond comprehension that we find ourselves in this situation, after coming so close to successfully restoring a population of wolves to their natural habitat in the Northern Rockies," said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen.

"Due to the ill-advised and overly hasty decision by Secretary [Ken] Salazar to strip wolves of federal protections before they were fully recovered, the states are free to reduce the wolf population down to 150 per state a potential loss of over two-thirds of the region's wolves," he said.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game said Monday that a wolf hunting season will give that agency "an opportunity to learn how public hunting fits into managing wolves."

"As Fish and Game learns how effective regulated hunting is, seasons can be adjusted in areas where wolves are causing unacceptable problems for big game herds or domestic livestock," the agency said.

Wolf managers will use the harvest limits the same way already used effectively with other species that Fish and Game manages. When limits are reached, the season ends.

Schlickeisen called the Idaho wolf hunt "heavy-handed" and said it demonstrates precisely the kind of "irresponsible state management" that should have kept the Rocky Mountain wolf on the Endangered Species List.

"Idaho hosts the core of the Northern Rockies wolf population, with approximately 1,000 wolves," said Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "By wiping out 220 wolves, the state will cripple the regional wolf population by isolating wolves into disconnected subgroups incapable of genetic or ecological sustainability."

"It's only a matter of time," warned Stone, "before Idaho's state legislature enforces their demand that all wolves be removed 'by whatever means necessary,' which is still the state's official policy on wolves."

She says that no other endangered species has ever been delisted at such a low population level and then immediately hunted to even lower unsustainable levels.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.